Iran will ask "no one's permission" to build up its missile capability, President Hassan Rouhani said on Saturday, in what appeared to be a defiant response to U.S. efforts to hamper the Iranian military. Facing an election in May where he hopes to secure a second four-year term, Rouhani has had to defend himself from opponents who say he has been too eager to appease the West, after agreeing to curb Iran's nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of sanctions. U.S. President Donald Trump has criticized the nuclear deal and said during his election campaign he would stop Iran's missile program. After Iran test-fired a new ballistic missile in January, Trump tweeted that it was "playing with fire". Addressing an event showcasing some locally built military hardware, broadcast on state TV, Rouhani said: "The strengthening of the capability of the Iranian armed forces ... is only for defending the country and we will ask no one's permission to build up the armed forces, and to build missiles and aircraft."
The power struggle in Iran ahead of next month's presidential election is intensifying as both pro-reform and hardline groups select two main candidates and speculation mounts over whether centrist president Hassan Rouhani will be allowed to run for a second term. Amid concern among Mr Rouhani's allies that hardline opponents may try to have him disqualified, Iran's first vice-president, Es'haq Jahangiri, threw his hat into the ring at the weekend as the second main reformist candidate. Mr Jahangiri said he would not compete against the president. "I will stand by Mr Rouhani and complement him," he said after his nomination.
Registration for next month's Iranian presidential election closed on Saturday, with more than 1,600 hopefuls signing up, including a last-minute entry by Tehran mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf. The 55-year-old conservative mayor had given mixed signals about whether he would make a third bid for the presidency, but showed up at the interior ministry just before the deadline for registration. There was also a surprise last-minute entry from first vice-president Eshaq Jahangiri, a close confidante of President Hassan Rouhani who registered on Friday. It is assumed Jahangiri, a 60-year-old reformist, is running to offer an alternative in case Rouhani is disqualified by the Guardian Council, which vets the candidates. Others speculate he could be trying to raise his profile ahead of a more concerted bid in 2021.
Iran has censured the United States' role in spreading terror in the Middle East region, saying Washington should pay for its wrongdoings. Speaking at a news briefing on Monday, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qassemi said US officials have shown in recent decades that they have not learned from their previous experiences and have consistently contributed to the escalation of terrorism in the region through their wrongful policies and indecent behavior. Qassemi said that Washington's policy continued under the new administration. "This is a mistake, which the US government should pay for like its other mistakes," the official asserted. As a case in point, he cited Republican US Senator John McCain's meeting with the head of the terrorist anti-Iran Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO), Maryam Rajavi, in the Albanian capital Tirana on Friday.
Former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the recent US missile strike on Syria did not faze him in a recent interview with the Associated Press. "I do not think it has a message for Iran. Iran is a powerful country and people like Mr. (Donald) Trump or the United States administration cannot hurt Iran," said Ahmadinejad in his northern Tehran office on Saturday. Iran is an ally to the Syrian government in the ongoing conflict and its military is in Syria alongside Syrian government forces. The US supports rebel groups while also fighting the so called Islamic State (IS). Ahmadinejad, who announced a few days ago he was running for a third presidential term, added the US air strike would have occurred even if Hillary Clinton won the US presidential election in November. He also considered the Trump administration was posturing in its tough talk against Iran, suggesting Trump would rather avoid war with his international interests.
The Trump administration is leveling new economic sanctions against senior Iranian officials and its prison system for widespread human rights abuses, including the systematic torture of those being held in these facilities, according to White House officials familiar with the matter. The latest sanctions target the Tehran Prisons Organization and Sohrab Suleimani, a senior official in the prison system and the brother of Qassem Soleimani, a senior Iranian military figure responsible for operating Iran's rogue activities in Syria and elsewhere. Sohrab Soleimani is responsible for overseeing Iran's notorious Evin Prison, which is known for torturous interrogations, forced interrogations, and widespread mistreatment of inmates. The latest sanctions are certain to rankle Tehran, already the subject of a range of new sanctions under the Trump administration, which is currently conducting a widespread review of all matters related to the landmark nuclear agreement.
UK firms are cautiously eying opportunities in Iran ahead of an expected $600bn boom in trade and infrastructure investment over the next ten years. The Islamic Republic is embarking on an ambitious investment drive as it emerges from decades of isolation imposed by international sanctions. The key infrastructure projects required includes the expansion of its 10,223km long state-owned rail network which supports industrial and commercial corridors and is expected to expand to over 25,000km by 2025, according to consultancy firm Ipsos. In addition, all 54 of Iran's airports are expected to require significant upgrades and Iran is planning to build 7 new international airports over the next decade. The state carrier, Iran Air, has already placed orders with Airbus for 114 new aircraft and it is estimated that another 600 new airplanes will be needed in the next decade.
Most oil producers support an extension of output cuts by OPEC and non-OPEC countries, and Iran would also back such a move, Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh was quoted as saying. "(Zanganeh) stressed that most countries want OPEC's decision to be extended," the Iranian Students' News Agency (ISNA) reported. "Iran also supports such a decision and if others comply, so would Iran," Zanganeh told reporters late on Saturday, according to ISNA. The market has been oversupplied since mid-2014, prompting members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and some non-OPEC producers to agree to cut output in the first six months of 2017. OPEC meets on May 25 to consider extending the cuts beyond June. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and most other OPEC members are leaning towards this if agreement is reached with other producers, OPEC sources told Reuters last month.
Iran said Sunday that it has more than doubled production at a giant undersea gas reservoir over the last four years. President Hassan Rouhani, who will stand for re-election next month, had campaigned in 2013 on promises to boost Iran's natural gas production. He said daily Iranian production at the South Pars Gas Field, which Iran shares with Qatar, has reached 540 million cubic meters, up from just 240 million when he was elected in 2013, state media reported. Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh said $20 billion has been invested in the field over the past decade, and that another $15 billion would be invested in the coming years, without providing specific details.
In an interview with Al Arabiya General Manager Turki Aldakhil this week, General Ahmed Asiri, the spokesman for Arab coalition forces fighting in support of the legitimate government in Yemen, revealed the existence of an "Iranian plot to strike the security and stability of Saudi Arabia." This plot would have been initiated from the Yemeni border, which prompted Saudi forces to move to protect the kingdom's territory, Asiri said, referring to the military intervention launched by Saudi Arabia and a coalition of Arab countries in 2015 codenamed Operation Decisive Storm. The coalition are battling against Houthi militias and bolstering Yemeni government forces after a Houthi takeover of the capital Sanaa and surrounding areas in recent years.
Iranian human rights activist Darya Safai on Friday demanded sports sanctions against her country as punishment for banning women from stadiums, a policy she described as "intolerable sexual apartheid". Speaking in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, one of the two cities bidding for the 2024 Olympics, the 42-year-old, wearing a tee-shirt bearing the slogan "Let Iranian women enter their stadiums", demanded an end to segregation. "We want to tell the International Olympic Committee and the international sports bodies that they must put an end to the discrimination and segregation that women face in sport, to say nothing is to condone it," Safai told AFP. Alongside other activists, she unveiled a banner which read: "Paris 2024 Against Sexual Apartheid -- Boycott Saudi Arabia and Iran".
The candidacy in Iran's upcoming presidential election of Ebrahim Raisi, who played a leading role in crimes against humanity during the 1980s, is a serious setback for a country striving to rejoin the international community. In 1988, Raisi was part of a four-man commission that implemented the extrajudicial executions of thousands of political prisoners. Current President Hassan Rouhani, Raisi, and the former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are considered at present to be the most serious contenders for the presidency, which will be decided in Iran's elections on May 19. "A man who should be on trial for the most heinous crime in contemporary Iranian history, is instead seeking the presidency," said Hadi Ghaemi, the executive director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI). "Allowing him to run for president is yet another grievous wound for the families who unjustly lost their loved ones in 1988," he added.
Iranian hard-line cleric Ebrahim Raisi Friday registered to run for next month's presidential election, state television showed. The 56-year-old has emphasized his concern for the poor and the high levels of unemployment - considered a weak spot for President Hassan Rouhani who also registered on Friday. "Despite all the efforts of previous governments, the situation of the country is such that people ask why is there so much unemployment?" Raisi told reporters at the interior ministry where registration was being held. He said he would announce detailed economic policies at a later date. "I have come to be the candidate for the whole of Iran. I don't limit myself to a certain group, party or faction," he added.
A brother of late President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani has registered to run in the upcoming Iranian presidential elections in May. Associated Press journalists watched as Mohammad Hashemi Rafsanjani, 75, registered Saturday - the last day of the registration period. Mohammad Hashemi Rafsanjani was head of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) for 10 years until 1994. He was also a member of the Expediency Council, an administrative assembly that plays an advisory role to Iran's Supreme Leader, or head of state.
OPINION & ANALYSIS
When US Tomahawk missiles struck Syria's Shayrat air base in retaliation for the Assad regime's barbaric chemical-weapons attack on rebel-held territory, Pentagon officials stressed their efforts to avoid hitting Russian military personnel located nearby. What the briefers didn't say was that units from Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps were also present at Shayrat, having been buttressing Bashar al-Assad long before significant Russian involvement. This is more than a little ironic given the IRGC's long campaign of terrorism against the United States and its allies. Indeed, Washington is currently debating whether to designate the Guard as a "foreign terrorist organization." President Ronald Reagan listed Iran itself as a state sponsor of terrorism in 1984. In 2007, George W. Bush named the Quds Force, the tip of the IRGC spear internationally, terrorists as well.
The U.S. has signed agreements with three rogue regimes strictly limiting their unconventional military capacities. Two of those regimes-Syria and North Korea-brazenly violated the agreements, provoking game-changing responses from President Trump. But the third agreement-with Iran-is so inherently flawed that Tehran doesn't even have to break it. Honoring it will be enough to endanger millions of lives. The framework agreements with North Korea and Syria, concluded respectively in 1994 and 2013, were similar in many ways. Both recognized that the regimes already possessed weapons of mass destruction or at least the means to produce them. Both assumed that the regimes would surrender their arsenals under an international treaty and open their facilities to inspectors. And both believed that these repressive states, if properly engaged, could be brought into the community of nations. All those assumptions were wrong. After withdrawing from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Pyongyang tested five atomic weapons and developed intercontinental missiles capable of carrying them.